Do solar panels work at night?

Solar panels work by converting sunlight into electricity. So, do solar panels work at night? The answer is no, they don’t produce electricity at night. However, it is possible to use the solar energy generated by your solar panels during the day, at night, using a solar system with battery storage.

This image shows that solar panels do not work at night but that it is possible to use solar energy at night with a solar battery.

Solar panels only work during daytime

Solar panels are a great invention, they even work on cloudy days, but they only work during the daytime. Without battery storage, solar panels work by sending excess electricity back to the grid, where you can receive a solar feed-in tariff.

How do solar panels work at night?

There are two ways your solar power system can enable you to access electricity at night:

  • Solar battery storage
  • Solar net metering

Use solar energy at night with battery storage

A solar battery works by storing your excess solar energy in a battery for later use. Typically, the solar battery charges during the day and is then used during the night to power electrical appliances.

Solar net metering

The other way your solar system works at night is by allowing you to buy electricity from the grid, just as you would without any solar panels. Net metering allows you solar power system to do three things:

  • Use the solar energy you generate for free
  • Send excess solar energy to the grid where you receive a feed-in tariff
  • Buy electricity from the grid when your solar panels aren’t generating electricity

With solar net metering, you pay for your electricity at night at the rate set out in your contract with your electricity retailer, usually around 25 – 35c per kWh.

The upshot of net metering; the solar panels do not work at night, but the net meter allows your solar system to access electricity from the grid at night.

Solar panels that do work at night

Researchers from the University of California have developed a thermoradiative solar cell that can produce electricity at night. The new solar panels that work at night can be referred to as anti-solar cells, because they work in the opposite way to conventional solar cells.

How new solar panels work at night

Professor Jeremy Munday explains, “A regular solar cell generates power by absorbing sunlight, which causes a voltage to appear across the device and for current to flow. In these new devices, light is instead emitted and the current and voltage go in the opposite direction, but you still generate power”.

Different materials are used to conventional solar panels, but as Munday points out, “the physics is the same”.

While night solar panels are a terrific scientific breakthrough, they are a long way off commercial development. At present, the new solar panels that work at night can only produce around a quarter the electricity of a conventional panel.

For now, solar panels do not work at night

While solar panels do not work at night at present, it is still possible to use solar energy at night with a solar battery. And, one day in the future, we may have solar panels that produce electricity during the day and at night.

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